Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

International search for Mars Polar Lander continues
Posted: Feb. 8, 2000

  Radio telescope
The Lovell radio telescope being used to hear the possible MPL signals. Photo: Jodrell Bank Observatory
Radio telescopes in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and at Stanford University in California are preparing for a second set of observations on Tuesday to continue to listen for a possible signal from Mars Polar Lander.

"We have received tremendous support from the observatories at Westerbork, Jodrell Bank and Stanford. They have been working around the clock to help us and we are grateful for their efforts," said Richard Cook, project manager for Mars Polar Lander at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

A second round of observations is required in order to eliminate remaining uncertainty about the operational status of the batteries on the lander. The operations Tuesday will consist of two 30-minute listening windows with a two-hour "cooling down" period in between. JPL will send a new set of commands to the spacecraft Monday night through the Deep Space Network. An additional antenna near Bologna, Italy, will also be used to listen on Tuesday.

Mission managers at JPL theorize that the lander may be in a different configuration than expected, and as a result the spacecraft might not have executed or received the commands that were sent last week.

Results from the listening windows on Friday, February 4, have not been conclusive. Both radio telescopes at Westerbork in the Netherlands and Jodrell Bank in the United Kingdom have operated optimally throughout the experiments. Observational data from both telescopes have been analyzed extensively, but nothing has been found in the data to suggest transmissions from Polar Lander. The two telescopes have a similar sensitivity for detecting signals from the lander, and thus far all signals they have detected are thought to be of terrestrial origin.

Analysis of the data from Stanford has also not yielded any conclusive results, and scientists there are still continuing to review that data.

Exhaustive analysis of the new data taken on Tuesday will take at least until the end of this week.

The Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope is operated by Astron, the Netherlands Foundation for Research in Astronomy, and is financed by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.

The Lovell Telescope at the Jodrell Bank Observatory is operated by the University of Manchester's Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Mars Polar Lander is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. Lockheed Martin Astronautics Inc., Denver, Colo., is the agency's industrial partner for development and operation of the spacecraft. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.

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